The science fiction, fantasy and horror bookshelves are bursting at the seams this month. How is a reader to choose which ones get their book-buying dollars? For starters, take this list of top speculative fiction picks with you. These are the books you'll want to check out first.

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Area X is a mysterious and dangerous region where inexplicable things happen, even to the exploration teams that undertake the risky task of finding the source behind its oddities. After decades of much research and devastating loss, a final team enters Area X to find a member of the previous team who was left behind.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This is the final installment of VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, a series that has gained widespread accolades while crossing genre boundaries and taking no prisoners.

Continue reading >


Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A demented criminal mastermind commits bizarre crimes in the inner city of Detroit—crimes (like human taxidermy) that have more than a little tinge of a supernatural element to them. This unsettling story is seen through the eyes of multiple viewpoint characters: the single-mother homicide detective assigned to the case; her teenage daughter who decides to flirt with a possible online predator; a freelance journalist looking for his next big scoop; and a homeless man who will stop at nothing to protect his family.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This is a novel that Stephen King describes as "scary."

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Bulikov is a city that was once a glorious place. It conquered the world with the mighty powers of its godlike protectors and ruled the lands with an iron fist. But those protectors were killed and now Bulikov has become just another broken city. This is the unique surrealistic landscape where Shara Thivani, a spy posing as a junior diplomat, is sent to catch a murderer...and learns that those godlike protectors may not be gone after all.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Robert Jackson Bennett is a writing sensation whose four previous novels were universally lauded.City of Stairs

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In a world where bioengineering runs rampant, one woman chooses to remain her organic self. Nevertheless, she's the local expert of self-defense in Company Town, a city-sized oil rig off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes that's owned by her family. Her latest job is to train the family's youngest against death threats that seem to be originating from another timeline.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This is the book that answers the question: "What is the brilliant author vN and iD going to do next?"

Consumed by David Cronenberg

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A pair of social media–savvy freelance journalists individually track down stories that lead them both to global conspiracy. Naomi follows the trail of a suspected cold-blooded cannibal in Paris with the help of an eccentric graduate who, she comes to learn, knew the suspect. Meanwhile, Nathan is photo-documenting the work on an unlicensed surgeon in Budapest when a tryst leads him to Toronto and a bizarre secret.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: It's written by David Cronenberg. Yes, that David Cronenberg.

Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: This is the final short fiction collection by an author who left this world too soon. Lake himself assembled this collection of 32 works of short fiction after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This diverse collection spans not only his entire prolific career, but also genre borders with science fiction and fantasy stories that stay with you.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: In addition to writing compelling novels, Lake was an accomplished short fiction writer. This collection proves it.

Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Lizzie Borden, the infamous woman acquitted of killing her parents with an axe more than a century ago, would love to move on from the horrific deaths of her parents. However, the malevolent force that stole their souls is still roaming the depths of the sea and Lizzie Borden, axe in hand, intends to meet it head-on.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Part alternate history, part horror, Maplecroft is sure to be one of the season's creepiest reads.

Sleeping Late On Judgement Day by Tad Williams

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Bobby Dollar, a renegade angel who failed to rescue his demon girlfriend from Hell, returns to the menial task of being an angel advocate. When another angel, an old friend, shows up with selective amnesia about Bobby's superiors, it soon becomes apparent that there is corruption even in Heaven's hallowed halls. Its latest victim? Bobby, who's on trial for his immortal soul.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Williams' brand of urban fantasy is engrossing and fun to read.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: After a devastating plague kills off most of the world's population, a traveling band of performers, artists and musicians risk their lives forstation eleven the sake of art and humanity.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: While most post-apocalyptic stories wrap themselves up in hopelessness and despair, this one is a bit more optimistic.

Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A mild-mannered mechanical engineer is thrust into the world of swords and sorcery where he becomes embroiled in an eternal war. Since he has no magical abilities, he relies on his ingenuity, leveraging makeshift technology to win duels, fight assassins and battle monsters.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The emerging sub-genre of "flintlock fantasy" is an attractive one, putting low tech up against the supernatural to entertaining effect.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A 15-year-old girl deices to run away, but cannot escape the fact that she is a focal point for psychic phenomena. Through her unique, reality-altering perspective, readers see a war playing out between dangerous mystic factions.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Mitchell's story is kaleidoscopic, with several interconnected—and interesting—storylines being masterfully juggled to form a satisfying whole.

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Aboard an airship, a so-called medician named Octavia Leander uses her special abilities to heal the sick. On her first mission to the war-scarred cities across the land, Octavia encounters intrigue in the form of an attractive steward who just might be one of the Queen’s spies, assassins called the Clockwork Daggers, and a murder aboard the airship.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This steampunk fantasy includes all the right elements for a rip-roaring adventure.

The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Two kingdoms that share a border—Clemen and Harcia—wrestle with a mutual distrust as well as internal strife within their own kingdoms. In Clemen, Roric deposes Duke Harold and finds that his newfound power has not only lost him fiends, but also gained him a mortal enemy in Harold's son. In Harcia, a disgraced heir bides his time for the day when he will rule and defeat the neighboring land of Clemen. Perhaps orchestrating the events in these dysfunctional lands is the mage Salimbene and his minion witches.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Intrigue? Back-stabbing? Scheming mages? What more do you want from epic fantasy?

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: What if fairy tales were true? That's the premise of McGuire's October Daye series, named after its half-human/half-fae protagonist. This latest installment sees October at the top of her game...with good friends, powerful allies and even an "in" with the new Queen of the Mists...but as October learns, what goes up must come down.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: McGuire's October Daye series is a continual crowd-pleaser and this latest outing is no exception.

The Witch with No Name by Kim Harrison

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Cincinnati demon Rachel Morgan has her hands full. Not only is she trying to save her best friend Ivy's soul along with the rest of the living vampires, but she's also trying to reconcile the millennia-old feud between demons and elves.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This is the final installment (#13!) in the much-loved series The Hollows, and like always it's filled with mystery, action, romance and humor.witch with no name

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Several months after landing in New York, aliens finally reveal the reason for their arrival. The bad news: Earth's foremost scientists have 10 months to prevent a disaster. Against this tense backdrop, geneticist Marianne Jenner must deal with a family that is pulling itself apart.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Kress is an author who grabs the "What if?" premise of science fiction with both hands and delivers thought-provoking pieces of literature.

For Short Fiction Readers

There's a great selection of short fiction this month, too. Besides the aforementioned collection from Jay Lake, take a look at these juicy titles:

¨  Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall

¨  Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future edited by Ed Finn & Kathryn Cramer

¨  Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures edited by Sean Wallace

¨  Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

¨  Nature Futures 2: Science Fiction from the Leading Science Journal edited by Colin Sullivan and Henry Gee

¨  Phantasm Japan: Fantasies Light and Dark, From and About Japan

¨  Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs

¨  Stories of the Raksura: Volume 1: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud by Martha Wells

¨  The End is Now edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey

¨  The Spectral Book of Horror Stories edited by Mark Morris

¨  They Do the Same Things Different There: The Best Weird Fantasy of Robert Shearman

¨  Upgraded edited by Neil Clarke

¨  Zombie Apocalypse! Washington Deceased edited by Lisa Morton

¨  Zombies: More Recent Dead edited by Paula Guran

John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, the Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal.